Being Positive, a two-part investigative Open University/BBC series, examines the nature of the AIDS virus, how it works and the history of the development of HIV drug treatments. Part one, Dead Unlucky and part two, Dead Lucky, follow the stories of people who have been infected.
At the age of 18, Joanne – now 22 – became infected with HIV from her first sexual partner. After they were together a few months, he persuaded her to have unprotected sex. She said: “When I found out I was HIV positive it totally messed my head up. I don’t deserve it. I have been cheated out of my youth.”
It took a long time for Joanne to accept she was HIV positive. After the first diagnoses she was in shock and depressed for years. She said: " My dad treated me really badly at first; he didn’t want to use the same cup I used. I don’t feel I am good enough in a relationship now, I don’t feel that I am deserving of someone. I know so many people who are aware that I am HIV but it hasn’t stopped them having one night stands.“
Soon after she was diagnosed, her boyfriend left and Joanne has since found out that he slept with other women. They too may unknowingly be infected and may be infecting others.
The programme highlights research from leading scientists in the field of virus and disease control who found the risk of contracting HIV depends on:
Age – the younger a person, the more susceptible they are.
General health – the chance of someone contracting the virus is hugely increased if they already had a sexually transmitted disease. The risk rises further if they had even the tiniest of cuts or wounds.
The strain of HIV exposed to.
The type of sex a person had.
The series travels to San Francisco to visit men from the gay community that experienced the first AIDS cases in the West in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Thirty years on, the programme meets some of the men who had sexual encounters with an air steward who was, allegedly, responsible for the initial widespread of the virus in this region.
Then the programme visits Uganda where the disease has wiped out a third of the young adult population.
Based on studies in Uganda, the series explains how and when the virus moved from chimps to man. In a comparison of sexual behaviour the programme shows that chimps and humans are not as dissimilar as we might like to think. Such similarities are helping scientists understand the way the virus spreads.
Being Positive concludes that the high estimates of AIDS and HIV infection, as predicted for the UK in the early 1980s, were wrong. However, the latest statistics do reveal a growing, and worrying, trend in HIV infection, particularly amongst heterosexuals and that the chances of becoming infected are increasing.
First broadcast: Thursday 29 Jul 2004 on BBC THREE